Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Book review: "A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Use Them" by Neil Bradbury, PhD

 I'm not a true crime person, but I love a book that makes science easy to understand so I booked up this book. Right off the bat let me tell you who are 11 molecules are: Insulin, Atropine, Strychnine, Aconite, Ricin, Digoxin, Cyanide, Potassium, Polonium, Arsenic, Chlorine.

What's interesting about all of these molecules, and they mention it in the book, is that so many of those molecules can be used to treat you, and not hurt you. The dosage is reallllll important. As someone who was involved in medical research for a long time, I also found it interesting that it only took 2 years from insulins discovery in 1921 for it to be commercially available and ready to treat diabetics. But then three decades later we have the first known case of someone using it as a murder weapon. 

What else is interesting: you'd think that a lot of these chemicals would need to be injected or something noticeable but the amount of people who were killed by just having their food or beverages doctored was pretty incredible. The a-hole who poisoned is wife with atropine in her drinks was released from prison and for a time taught PHILOSOPHY AND MEDICAL ETHICS. Because irony is alive and well.

Do you remember hearing about the story of the former Russian spy and his daughter who were poisoned by current Russian spies at their new home in England? Current Russian spies had coated the door knob of their home with  a nerve agent, Novichuk, that is absorbed into the skin. When the ex-spy and his daughter were taken to the emergency room it was thought that they were suffering from an opioid overdose, until his past with the Russian government came to light. This was a compelling enough story but the last part of it, which I had never heard before just broke my heart. Apparently the would be assassins' smuggled this poison in a bottle of perfume so that it could be taken through the commercial airports they travelled through. After they used it they haphazardly tossed the bottle into a container for charitable collections. A man walking past saw the bottle of high end perfume just sitting there and took it home to his girlfriend. She was thrilled. She sprayed the nerve agent directly onto her wrist - about 10 times more than the ex-spy and his daughter was exposed to. She died 8 days later in the hospital. The Soviets/Russians show up in this book more than any other group, not super surprised.

This is a super interesting book, the chemistry talk is engaging and easy to understand. I wish all chemistry books were like this!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

"Women in the Picture: What Culture Does with Female Bodies" by Catherine McCormick

 This was such an incredibly interesting book, I learned so much and it also made me mad. Maybe not a surprise given the subject matter. The parts of the book that I found most compelling where the sections about female bodies in fine art.

I've seen similar statistics before and they always make me mad: "In the National Gallery there is a collection of 2,300 paintings - only 21 are by women." or "an annual report on gender disparity in the creative arts sector found that 68% of the artists represented by London's top commercial galleries were men, only 3% were women, despite the fact women takeup more than 2/3 of the places on creative arts and design courses in higher education". Also unsurprisingly, these statistics are worse for artists of color: "in the US, African American women make up just 3.3% of the total number of female artists who work was collected by US institutions between 2008 and 2018 (190 of 5,832)."

Woof. Support living, female artists everyone.

On the topic of specific art. The image of Venus comes up A LOT. Venus de Milo, the Rockeby Venus, and the ultra famous The Birth of Venus. Even just these three examples you have a range of types of Venus, from demure and coquettish to more sensual. The status when a subject has the arm and hand draped across their groin and genitals to cover and yet also draw attention to that area is called venus pudica. Feel free to bust that fact out at your next cocktail party.

Another depiction of women that comes up frequently, unfortunately, is rape. And it's not just the classic Greek and Roman stories depicted in art - though goodness knows that assault by a bored and horny god with no consequences was a real possibility. A frequent story depicted is the Rape of Europa - this one is Reubens, this one is Titian  and this one is a Goya. Pictures with rape depictions are more frequent than you might imagine - they can be found on money (like the Greek and Italian 2 Euro coin), in a statue outside of the Council of the European Union headquarters in Brussels, and in a sculpture outside of the European Parliament building in Strasbourg. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Christmas Gift Reads

 There are only a couple of people in my life who are bold enough to buy me books as presents, and oddly enough they are generally my two friends who are also brothers. Samwise (really just Sam but how could I not?) got me two books and Garrett got me another. Because these two are not strangers to me and my book choices my gifts involved arctic exploration gone terribly wrong, daring WWII rescues and Russian science fiction short stories.  Clears throat ~~~~~These are a few of my faaaaaaavorite thiiiiiinngs"~~~.

"In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette" by Hampton Sides

There was a stretch of time there when polar exploration was all the rage in the United States. Trying to find a way, by water, across the top of the world was on the front of everyone's mind.  For a long time it seemed like there was an endless cycle of excitement sending off an expedition, a few years wait where people got increasingly nervous about what happened to the expedition, a different expedition being sent to find the original one, and having no luck, then the people in the rescue expedition being like "oh man this arctic place is enchanting" and then it starts again. That was certainly the case for the USS Jeanette. A rabble rousing newspaper man underwrites the cost of this expedition and a mostly seasoned crew take off from San Francisco to see what they can find. Though they are well equipped and careful they are no match for the ice packed waters which embrace their boat in a grip that they can't escape from. Then it's a fight for survival for this crew - and the poor dogs that are with them. The dogs, always the worst for them when it comes to arctic expeditions gone wrong.

"Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission" by Hampton Sides. 

Samwise kept with a theme with the same author for the second book. This is the story of a group of POWs who were captured and imprisoned after the fall of Manilla. The book literally starts with a different group of POWs being burned alive by panicking Japanese soldiers and it was the most jarring start to a book that I've read in a long time. So there is a certain prison camp that the US military is worried will be liquidated (aka all the POWs killed) as the end of the war becomes more obvious and a daring rescue mission is brewed up! It is also one of the, if not THE first, mission by what becomes the Army Rangers. You get to know the men in the camp, the men doing the rescuing and one or two really amazing civilians who worked to get food, medicine and supplies (including a Greek Old Testament) to the POWs. What I always find super interesting about these stories is that there are some men who served in these positions that are lifelong military men who come from long military families, went to West Point, whatever. But there are just as many, if not more, men who are just regular, every day men who are put into these positions of power and leadership but after the war they just go home and lead civilian lives and what an extreme change that must be. Was a great read, edge of my seat but doesn't shy away from the scary and graphic subject matter.

My friend Garrett got me a collection of Isaac Asimov's short stories called Nightfall. In truth, I haven't read this one yet but I'm sure I will soon!

Monday, January 10, 2022

What I've been reading (poetry, nonfiction, sandworms oh my!)

Two different collections of poetry from Nikita Gill "Fierce Fairytales Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul" and "Where Hope Comes From: Poems of Resilience, Healing and Light".  Hope Comes From was a book of poems that were written during the pandemic, so all of those poems felt very timely which is nice. The Fierce Fairytales collection were retellings of fairytales and fairytale inspired poems. The pandemic collection was my more favorite of the two, though I liked them both!

"You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why it Matters" by Kate Murphy. When someone is talking to you are you actually listening and taking in what they say or are you listening to form a response? Are you paying attention to their emotion and inflection or are you strictly listening to their words? Are you inserting your own opinions when it is not asked for or when it's unwelcome? Do you try to domineer conversations because that's how you show that you are in charge? All things to be watching for when you are listening. 

Dune by Frank Herbert. Maybe you have heard of this book and/or movie? One of my friends is real passionate about this book and was very excited about the movie so I said that I would read the book before I saw the movie and then we could be on the same page to discuss them together. I love a weighty sci-fi novel but this one was a little dense for me. I think it's the lots of families, lots of political intrigue that I got a little bored with. But I am glad that I read it!

The Power of Ritual: How to Create Meaning and Ritual in Everything That You Do by Casper ter Kuile. So I like the idea of this book more than I like the actual book. It was a little more woo woo than I was hoping it would be. What it really boils down to is: take time to disconnect from technology, be grateful (like truly practice gratitude), get into nature, don't be afraid to look deep into yourself, be vulnerable.

(I don't know why this last one is formatting weird and I'm too lazy to try and fix it, lo siento) 

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova.  This was a fun read! A far flung family is reunited by the impending death of their matriarch. Told in current time and in flashbacks you learn this families history as their mysterious, homebound grandmother finally reveals some of their family secrets and gives them an unusual gift. A wonderful south american, magical realism read.


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Favorites of 2021

Well, its the new year which means it's time to talk about the books that I enjoyed the most in 2021. I also read a total of 46 books this year, which is a little bit short of my goal but still a respectable total for me, especially in a panini, ugh. In no particular order: 

From August, we have:

You can see my review here.

 From March:

You can see my review here!

I didn't review it on the blog, but I very very much enjoyed this read. Mary Roach is one of my favorites, and this was one of her best. She's funny, easy to understand and very well researched and I learn so much in each of her books. 

Here's to more great reads in 2021!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Book Review: "The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear" by Kate Moore

Shout out to my friend Maggie who gave me this great book for my birthday this year! If Kate Moore sounds familiar its because she wrote the incredibly popular "Radium Girls" and Maggie and I actually went to an author event with her a few years ago where she talked about it and she was lovely and nice and it was such a fun night. 

So this is the true story of a woman named Elizabeth Packard. It's 1860 and Elizabeth is married to her husband and they have a small family. Her husband is a preacher who is slowly growing more and more resentful of his vibrant wife. She speaks up in Bible class, has opinions of her own, asks questions, and is overall more liked then her husband. He tries to silence her several times but eventually, with the help of some conspirators (several of whom Elizabeth counted as friends) she is imprisoned in the Illinois State Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois. It was ASTONISHINGLY easy to get your wife thrown into an institution during this time. (Actually it was much harder to get a single person institutionalized because women were considered...property of their husbands).

 Here's a quote from Elizabeth about some of her fellow inmates:
"It was a matter of great surprise to me to find so many, who, like themselves, had never shown any sign of insanity...the asylum was a storage unit for unsatisfactory wives, put here to get rid of them". 

At first Elizabeth is put on a ward with a lot of freedom and other women in similiar situations to her - not actually insane, just troublesome for their families for whatever reason. But when she beings to butt heads with the head doctor, as a punishment, she is sent to a dark, unsanitary ward filled with women who do actually need mental help, many of whom who are violent. Elizabeth made it her mission to help these women (like, helping to bathe them once every 3 weeks instead of....never). This is the start of a lifetime commitment to helping women imprisoned unjustly like her, and other minority groups. 

This was a thick book, but read really quickly. Was it a bit of disheartening read at time? Oh my gosh yes. But ultimately uplifting as we get to see Elizabeth work towards the betterment of others!


Thursday, November 25, 2021

Spooky Movie Wrap Up

Hi everyone! Now that it's the end of November, time to wrap up my October activity, haha. 

New to me movies/shows:

Suspiria - As I said in my previous post I went with the new Suspiria because I was intrigued by the setting and cast. It was really interesting, the acting was great, there was a lot of unsettling weird stuff. But it kept me super intrigued the whole time. I love the dance studio setting - I love a crumbling art deco building. Also, there's some subtitles in the movie and when they are speaking German the text is red and when they are speaking French it's blue. Which I just adore for some reason.

Squid Game - Everyone and their mom is talking about this show, so I won't go on any more about it. I like a horror movie that involves people having to take deep looks into themselves and figure out how they would react in a certain situation, that's why this one works for me!

The Cube - Want a thriller/horror movie that relies heavily on math? The Cube is for you! The Cube walked so Saw could run. A group of strangers suddenly awaken in a series of booby-trapped rooms and they try to figure out why and if there's anything that they can do to survive and get out. 

In The Earth - I was intrigued by this one because of the director's horror credentials and the fact that it was written and shot in an incredibly short period of time. It feels real relevant, and it's because it was written JUST at the beginning of the panini. I thought it was fine! Not amazing but entertaining enough.

Repeat favorites:

The Fog - I love me The Fog. I think the first like, 15 minutes is just so perfectly done. Just classic 80's John Carpenter.

Poltergeist - My favorite fact about Poltergeist is that it's directed by Tobe Hooper...who also directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I feel like Poltergeist is just a spooky, fun little romp and Texas Chainsaw Massacre is just...terrifying. Tobe has range!